Monday, October 11, 2004
Via Cursor: State Department interpreter Fred Burks, in an e-mail to Bob Fertik, describes a meeting between President Bush and President Megawati Soekarnoputri of Indonesia on September 19, 2001:
This was my first time interpreting for Bush. The previous day, I had been given the 22 points Bush would be covering in this meeting in order to familiarize myself with the topics to be discussed. About half of these "talking points" had to do with terrorism, which was to be fully expected given what had just happened. The other points, however, involved many details of Indonesian politics which even I would have had a tough time addressing, let alone Bush, who I assumed had limited knowledge of Indonesia.
During those 90 minutes, President Bush not only covered all the points, he covered them quite well and without any notes! Not once during the entire meeting did he look at any notes or receive cues from anyone present in discussing the Indonesian political situation with depth and intelligence. I was astonished! "How could this be?" I asked myself. It was a huge surprise. I concluded either that Bush was much more intelligent than we had been led to believe, or that somehow someone was feeding answers to him through a hidden earpiece. At the time, I really didn't know which of these was true.
Having worked directly with President Bush twice since then, and having additionally talked with many of my fellow interpreters who have worked directly with him, I am now certain that he could not have had that much knowledge of Indonesia. He doesn't even read the daily newspaper to keep up with what's being reported in the press. I am convinced that he must have been using some sort of earpiece through which someone was telling him what to say.
Having interpreted for media guests touring large TV studios, I've seen how the news anchors all have hidden earphones, and how the news producers are feeding them all sorts of information even as they talk live on TV. "20 seconds to a commercial," "15 seconds of filler here," "wrap it up quick " etc... This is standard practice for live TV shows. The "let me finish" comment made by Bush in the debate was only confirmation of something I already knew.